Virtual teacher could change distance learning

A virtual teacher who is able to respond to children's moods is being hailed as a critical tool in the expanding long-distance learning market.

Massey researchers have developed the near-human animated teacher, called Eve, and say the development has drawn the attention of scientists across the computing world.

An attractive blonde, the 3D image is designed to teach maths one-on-one to 8-year-olds.

Eve is what is known in the information sciences as an intelligent or affective tutoring system, that can adapt its response to the emotional state of people by interaction through a computer system.

Linked to a child via computer, the animated character or virtual tutor can tell if the child is frustrated, angry or confused by the on-screen teaching session and can adapt the tutoring session appropriately.

Eve can ask questions, give feedback, discuss questions and solutions and show emotion.

To develop the software, the Massey team observed children and their interactions with teachers and captured them on thousands of images.

From these images of facial expression, gestures and body movements they developed programs that would capture and recognise facial expression, body movement, and, via a mouse, heart rate and skin resistance.

The system uses a network of computer systems, mainly embedded devices, to detect student emotion and other significant bio-signals.

The system is thought to be the first of its type.

The research team was led by Hossein Sarrafzadeh, based at the Auckland Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences.

Dr Sarrafzadeh said the ability of virtual Eve to adjust to the reaction of the child facing her at the keyboard has been hailed as an exciting development in the $25 billion e-learning market.

He said the realisation software systems would significantly improve performance if they could adapt to the emotions of the user has spawned research and development in the field of affective or intelligent tutoring systems.

"With rising demand for long-distance learning and online tutoring, a computer programme capable of detecting human emotions may become a critical teaching tool."

- NZPA

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